Ireland is limping in terms of digitally enabling businesses – Lord David Puttnam (video)

12 Sep 2014

Lord David Puttnam, Ireland's Digital Champion

Opportunities are being missed in sectors such as food and tourism, and generally across the Irish business landscape firms are slow to embrace digital technologies, said Ireland’s Digital Champion Lord David Puttnam.

Puttnam, who was two years ago named Ireland’s Digital Champion, has fully embraced digital himself and every week from his home in Skibbereen, Co Cork, broadcasts in real-time to lecture halls in Australia and Singapore. He interacts with film students over high-speed broadband, talks over video clips of his earlier films, and chats with the earnest students.

Puttnam, who sits in the House of Lords, advised the last UK Labour government on digital policy. He is best known as being the producer of major movies, including The MissionBugsy MaloneMemphis BelleThe Killing Fields,The Duellists and Midnight Express. He won an Oscar for Best Picture in 1981 for Chariots of Fire and a BAFTA in 1982 for his contribution to the British Film Industry.

In a video link to this morning’s Digital Ireland Forum in Dublin, Puttnam praised the efforts of Ireland’s former communications minister Pat Rabbitte, TD, to lead State intervention in terms of a €512m fibre broadband project to connect rural areas.

He also praised the efforts of EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes, who he said was a “committed commissioner trying to keep the ball on the pitch” in terms of digitally enabling Europe.

However, he admitted his biggest area of concern is how few SMEs have embraced digital technologies to grow their businesses.

“Ireland is limping in poor second in terms of the number of digital enterprises. I’m not sure what the problem is but somehow we haven’t entirely got the message across that the digital world offers these opportunities.

“There are opportunities being missed in tourism. I met with artisans in Cork recently who are rather slow to see that all businesses can be enhanced by the digital world. They have no sites, their businesses limp along and they all feel hopelessly out of date.

“It’s an area I would like to get to grips with; thus far we have failed to find leaders in this area,” Puttnam said.

UPC Ireland’s VP of Business Services Gavan Smyth echoed Puttnam’s comments.

Smyth pointed out there are 47,000 businesses in Ireland with no digital presence.

‘The key is impetus’

Digital Ireland Forum: Ireland’s National Digital Champion Lord David Puttnam’s address

Puttnam urged Ireland’s new Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Alex White, TD, to use his power as a minister to get people talking to each other and “get across the extraordinary changes we are missing”.

Puttnam said the reality of the present broadband rollout is that disparities between regions and towns are inevitable.

“But the most important thing the department (of communications) can do is ensure the rollout is as rapid as possible and not dependent on suppliers looking to cash in.

“There is a social and moral issue. If we want businesses to gain we have an obligation and not one group should feel disadvantaged.

“The key is impetus.”

Puttnam took a little time to praise Silicon Republic’s commitment to the broadband issue, as well as its focus on the gender issue in technology and ensuring girls, as well as boys, are engaging in the digital world, describing as a “remarkable publication”.

We can’t argue with that.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years